Nepali Christian converts demand burial ground near Pashupatinath Temple

via Organiser Special Report published on May 11, 2011

By Gourishankar Sahoo and Ranjan Pradhan

THE crisis started in December 2010 when a ban was imposed by Pashupati Area Development Trust, the Government Authority responsible for the upkeep of world famous pilgrimage place Pashupati Khetra (Sleshmantak Van). This ban prevents public burying their dead in Pashupati Khetra. The Christian converts’ number in Kathmandu is growing on drastically since late nineties. Christians started burying their dead in the Pashupati area around April 1990.

According to Sj. Narottam Vaidya, Treasurer, Pashupati Trust, in the last four years the Christian graves (in the Van) has multiplied to thousands.

There is no exact solution to social problems. Social problem is the by product of instantaneous state of mind. Since, we know a little about the dynamics of mind, it is difficult to address social problems in an amicable way. But, when I look at the so-called human activists at coffin protest, I recollect John Orwell, “Now the institutions are acting as if their naming is diagonally opposite to what their act is.” The ‘Department of Peace’ of United States is invading the other countries with deadly weapons and creating chaos all over world! The Non-Havings Messiah, Communists are killing poor farmers of Nadigram and Singur for big companies (Havings)! It is no surprise that the “Human Right activists at Kathmandu shouting for the rights of dead!!!” I have a little problem if the so-called right of the dead do not inflict into the right of the living beings!

Eighteen years ago a breakthrough research was carried out by Prof JFP Engelbrecht, Senior Scientist, Ground Water Programme CSIR, Stellenbosch, South Africa. His group has chosen a local municipal cemetery of Western Cape of Pretoria. Twenty one well points were installed in the cemetery ground and one wall point far away from the cemetery ground was used for sampling and quantifying the quality of ground water. Fifteen times the data is collected both during summer and winter. The sampled groundwater from certain well points in the cemetery was dark in color and had an unpleasant rotten smell. The ground water is analysed for a range of chemical and microbiological parameters. The result of this pilot study showed an increase of colony forming unit (cfu) in sampled ground water for all microbiological indicators used and it clearly indicates that the ground water in the cemetery is micro-biologically extremely polluted compared with the expected regional ground water quality. It is worth noting that concentration of micro-organisms in water is expressed in cfu units.

From the earlier studies by Prof S Bouwer in his book Groundwater Hydrology, published by McGraw Hill Inc., New York (p.423 (1978)) it is found that the human bodies self decomposes to generate poisonous fluid called leachate that contains micro-organisms that can contaminate ground water. The pioneering work of Dutch scientist F W L Van Haaren’s article in the prestigious international journal Water (Vol 35(16), 1951, page 167-172) educate us that the human corpse takes nearly 10 years for complete self-oxidation at a burial depth 1-5m Prof Pacheco and his group in the year 1991 revealed that the ground water below cemeteries are ‘nauseating smell’ and loaded with photolytic and lipolytic bacteria. Prof. Gregory and his group from British Geological Survey studied a graveyard in Wolver Hampton (Danes court) and found that ground water was contaminated with bacteria, to name a few faecal streptococci, staphylococcus aureus etc. Prof. Spongberg and Becks while studying the ground water quality under the cemeteries of Northern Ohio found that these are also potential source of inorganic contamination. Potential contaminants include arsenic, mercury, formaldehyde, varnishes, sealers, preservatives, lead, zinc, copper and steel. May be metal coffins are responsible for this.

A similar study of Baheshte Zahra Cemetery at Tehran, Iran revealed the severe poisoning effect of cemeteries on ground water. (See Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (ICCCE), pp 414-418, 2010).

Short-term impacts of burial grounds includes problems such as noise, flies, odour, air pollution and unsightliness and pollution of water regime and landfill gas generation are the long term impacts. (See Dead in the Water by Prof JC Outfront (2005)). Let’s compare the bacteria count/chemical percentage in the groundwater of 20 boreholes under the burial ground at the Western Cape of Pretoria, South Africa with standard permissible bacteria count/Chemical percentage.

This contaminated water is a potential source of the following deceases: Cholera, hepatitis, heptospirosis, typhoid, paratyphoid, tularaemia, amoebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, gastroenteritis, ascariasis, conjuctivitis, leprosy, scabies, skin sepsis, ulcers, tiner, trachoma, schistosomiasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, sleeping sickness and yellow fever etc. If the balance between the body resistance of in habitats and the concentration of micro-organisms and chemical substances in ground water get disrupted due to some socio-economic-political dynamics serious problem for existence of human race in the cemetery area may be encountered.

Now the scientists are confident that due to contamination from cemeteries, higher incidence of typhoid fever was seen in people living near cemeteries in Berlin from 1863-1867. Looking back into history we can find that the Romans and Jews regarded cemeteries (Burial Ground) as hazardous and therefore established their graveyards far beyond city walls. In Asia and Africa also the concern for sanitation influenced Egyptians and Chinese selection of place for cemeteries. Christians, however, used catacombs as mass graves and place of worship. They also used Churches and Churchyards to bury their dead. (See Encyclopedia Britannia, Embalming, Burial and Cremation; Macropaedia, Vol 6, p.739, 15/e, 1976). After the discovery of microbes by Louise Pasture and subsequent research it was found that the dead bodies are severely polluting the ground water and soil, although the degree of pollution is inversely proportional to the distance from coffin (See W G Schraps, Mittcilungen Deutsche Bodenkundliche Gasellschaft, Vol 16, 1972, pp 225-229) and directly proportional to ground water velocity (See Abu-Ashour, JDM, JH Lee, HR Whiteley and L Zelin: Water, air and soil pollution, Wiley Inc, New York (1994). It is better to burn the dead body; if not the burial grounds should be far away from the public place. The dead bodies thrown here and there during historic war periods were food for thousands of vulture like species. But, today due to our human centric attitude all the wild life is nothing but endangered species!

It is worth noting that all the western nations are formulated a number of laws, which are subsequently amended as a result of new scientific developments. Even, the land of Churches, Italy has revised a lot in relation to burial ground under articles 82 and 83 of Decree No 295 of 1990! The hydrological characteristics of soil with regard to its ability to purify the contaminated fluid from corpse decomposition, its ability to avoid the infiltration of pollutants in ground water and its ability to skeletonise buried corpse within the given times are taken into account while formulating the law. In this critical juncture faced by the historic civilisation around Kapilabastu (Nepal) stringent laws need to be formulated for burial grounds with a scientific spirit.

Everyday thousands of people are coming for a pilgrimage to the Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal. It is obvious that the water consumption is relatively more than other areas of this Himalayan Republic. The area which is being demanded by the ‘Coffin Protesters’ is close to the Bagmati river (Flowing right side of the Pashupatinath Temple) and only a half kilometer away from the Trishuli river nearly 40 km long. It will be disastrous for the residence of central Nepal if the land will be allowed for burial ground. The human rights of thousands of Nepalese irrespective of their caste, creed and religion will suffer a lot in long run if any wrong decision is taken now, by the Nepali Government. I recollect Comrade Mao Tse Tung and his last will, “Don’t bury my dead body, put it in fire”. Comrade Ho Chi Minh’s last will was to burn his dead body and collecting the ashes and throw them in the cultivated land nearby. Their followers did the opposite! Their successors in Nepal, like Comrade Rudra Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda is expected to support the decision of Pashupati Area Development Trust in the continuing political battle keeping a scientific spirit. Talks may be initiated between different political parties and Christian leaders for a new suitable place for burial ground far away from peoples’ residence of Kathmandu. Peoples across the world sympathetic to human beings need to be come forward to save the rights of human beings denying the deadly rights of the coffins.

(Contacts: Gourishankar Sahoo, Senior Research Fellow, Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, Odisha-753003, E mail: [email protected]

Ranjan Pradhan, Geophysicist, ONGC, Chandkheda, Ahmedabad, Gujarat-380005, E mail- [email protected])

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